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Content Marketing for Authors

Free content can keep your audience engaged for long periods of time with minimal input.

According to Google Trends, searches for “the attention economy” have steadily risen since 2015. This new term entered the zeitgeist because of its association with tech firms and how they succeeded with a simple strategy:

  1. Attract users by advertising their content
  2. Feed them tailored content to keep their attention
  3. Auction off their attention as advertising space

This has been their approach to mastering the attention economy, in which attention has value. While the term might be less than a decade old, though, this principle is older. Take content marketing, for example. The dictionary defines it as:

“a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material […] that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.”

Sound familiar? Creators have used content marketing since the 90s, participating in the attention economy by reeling in readers with free content then directing them into sales funnels. The only difference with social media companies is that while creators create their own content and products, the companies leveraged users’ content and farmed out the ad space for businesses to exploit with external sales funnels.

No matter how you feel about this, content marketing works. It’s free and scalable over time. The right free content can promote your brand for weeks, months… or years. The more high-quality content you create, the faster you can grow. The problem as an author is that content marketing eats into book-writing time and can lead to burnout. Find a medium you enjoy, though, and you will find it easy to produce high-impact content that doesn’t steal all your bandwidth. Today’s blog post explores that possibility, analysing the major content marketing paths you can take to identify which one will work for you.

Ebooks

The first port of call for many authors is ebooks. It makes sense; if you’re already writing paid content in the form of ebooks then you might as well write some free ones, or make existing first-in-series instalments free. Not only will they represent your brand perfectly, offering readers a taste of your authorial voice, but they’ll also adhere perfectly to your strengths. Creating ebooks means not having to endure any fresh learning curves. What’s more, by publishing them on retailers, you can use them as free advertising on the same platforms you use to reach paying readers, giving the two types of products synergy through which they promote one another.

Publishing them like a regular ebook but without a price, however, isn’t the only way to use ebooks in a content marketing capacity. How about turning them into reader magnets? Coined by Nick Stephenson in 2014, a “reader magnet” is a book you give away for free but only as a welcome gift after readers agree to join your email list. This strategy is powerful because it enables you to direct each reader that expresses an interest in your free content to more content, be it paid or free, after they’ve entered your sales funnel. Make your reader magnet a book that readers can only get by signing up to your list and this supercharges your list-building progress.

Blogging

Many of us gravitate towards blogging as, much like ebooks, the primary skill it requires is writing. It stands to reason; we should already know how to do it, right? In truth, it’s not that simple — there are subtle stylistic differences between novels and blog writing — but the point is valid. If you want to become a proficient blogger, just know that you might have to adapt your style to optimise for searchability, which underpins content marketing success. That said, it is a fundamentally similar skill, and each blog post only requires a few hours of work to complete, making them a smaller commitment than a book and, therefore, a more attractive prospect.

Lots of authors follow this path, and happily craft one to four blog post a month. However, if that sounds like a lot of work, microblogging might be a more manageable alternative. As a microblogger, you’ll still blog but each post can be short — often a few dozen words, much like flash fiction. You can post on your own site, like Seth Godin, or on a social media platform like Facebook, Twitter or Reddit, which all favour text more than competitors. Earn a reputation as a microblogger and you can still build considerable audience momentum. Plus, a lot of this writing isn’t single-use. Like any good material, it’s recyclable, possibly as email marketing campaigns.

Images

Writing is a logical choice for authors, but writing bandwidth is a finite resource we must all conserve. If you worry about sapping your willpower on creating free content to the detriment of crafting sellable books, it’s worth asking yourself, “What other sort of content can I create?” Often, the answer is imagery. They say (whoever they are) that a picture is worth a thousand words, and they’re right. In fact, a good image can be worth a million. On Instagram or Pinterest, popular users can reach swathes of readers with a single post. And some pictures only take a minute to create, too. That leaves plenty of creative bandwidth for writing.

Admittedly, not every cookbook author has access to a photogenic kitchen, not every beach read novelist can afford a tropical resort, and not every self-help author can get their book into a President’s hands for a photo op. Fortunately, you don’t need a massive budget or an elite social circle to promote a book using images. Poolside stock images are totally fine, providing you hold the necessary licensing rights. And you can always create your own infographics to get readers talking about your self-help guide. If you’re artistic, you could even adapt your cover to create PC desktop wallpapers and turn your readers into guerrilla marketers for your brand.

Video

Look at any list of the most famous celebrities in the world and line-ups rarely contain any authors. Actors, musicians and talk show hosts often make up the majority. Why? Because authors don’t capitalise on their faces. The average person couldn’t spot Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer in a department store. Yet, they’re likely to recognise Ariana Grande or Leonardo DiCaprio. Not only that, they’re typically more interested in what they have to say. Has a celebrity endorsement ever made a product seem more legit to you? Probably, and only video has that power. Hence, if you want to influence readers with personality-led content, video is as good bet.

On this front, YouTube is useful for targeting adults. As a popular source of long-form video content, it’s effective at building loyal fanbases. Authors on YouTube create all sorts of videos, from movie reviews, to celebrity romance gossip analysis, to video tutorials covering non-fiction business concepts. No matter the genre, YouTube viewers love a deep dive. Meanwhile, if you write books for teens, you might see a better return from snappier video content on TikTok, Instagram or Facebook. In each video, you can by funny, inspirational or insightful. Any strategy can build trust and sell books. The key is pairing your content with your readers’ interests.

Audio

Growing rapidly, the final content marketing medium on this list is podcasting — a modern twist on radio. Much like radio, podcasts are audio-first but can include a video component if you want to go down that route. The biggest difference between podcast and radio is that podcasts are based online and streamed on demand. Depending on whatever platform you use to access them, you can sometimes even download episodes to whatever device you use and listen to them connection-free. What all this flexibility has done is make listening on the go easier than ever, giving prominent podcasters extreme content marketing opportunities.

The world’s largest podcaster, Joe Rogan, for example, averages 11 million listeners per episode. That equated to over 4 billion listener hours in 2022. Yes, recording and editing podcasts takes a lot of time, but it can be fun and is a different activity to writing, which means it doesn’t sap the same creative willpower reserves. Plus, putting in the hours is worth it as a content marketing strategy because podcasts also take a lot of time to consume. Indeed, many listeners play them in the background, like a constant companion. Become a listener’s favourite host and they will listen to you for hours every week and pay attention to everything you recommend.

Content marketing takes patience, but you don’t have to endure it alone. If you want total control, that’s fine. However, you can create a lot of content and enjoy an easier ride if you’re willing to work with collaborators and share the spotlight. Some authors prefer this approach because it adds a social element to the job, keeping them enthusiastic and accountable, which can help combat long-term fatigue. If you think that’ll be a struggle for you, consider the following African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

Daniel Parsons

Daniel Parsons

Dan Parsons is the bestselling author of multiple series. His Creative Business books for authors and other entrepreneurs contains several international bestsellers. Meanwhile, his fantasy and horror series, published under Daniel Parsons, have topped charts around the world and been used to promote a major Hollywood movie. For more information on writing, networking, and building your creative business, check out all of Dan’s non-fiction books here.